Charlotte update: anatomy of an ARG puzzle solve

March 25, 2009 - 7:14 pm 3 Comments

As is sometimes the case with Alternate Reality Games, the break in the case came suddenly, just when the players were complaining that we would never get a break in the case.

On the IRC chat channel we had discussed and discarded seemingly everything, overthinking every aspect of the tapes, the emails, the author’s website, and anything else we could think of. “You are the one in charge” seemed like a clue, but I scoured my tape recorder’s battery compartment and plug receptacle and found nothing of interest save an old looking barcode.

Unfiction’s SpaceBass figured out a way to trick SpamGourmet into sending more than one email to the recipient. A couple of us tried his hack. I didn’t have high hopes.

The people on chat asked me to take more pictures of my package and recorder. I posted one to Twitpic on Sunday.


On Monday, those of us who used the SpamGourmet hack to send P.Martin mail got a response with an attachment:

Swell, he’s a parrot. Wait, what? Something has changed. The “OPEN” on the battery compartment has been changed to read “TURN.”

Cue major discussion and overthinking again. Luckily, I had already listened to both sides of my tape, so I didn’t have to spend time trying that. All that was left was to check out that old looking bar code that had seemingly nothing interesting at all about it.

Inside the battery case

Other people in chat reported that their “Device ID” and “Part No.” numbers were different from mine. Intriguing. I posted the closeup of the bar code, which others decoded – it was in Code 39 and read “6776616C686579.”

Hmmm, I thought – that looked an awful lot like it could translate from Hex to Ascii. Sure enough, it reads “gvalhey” when converted to Ascii. A quick decode from Rot-13, and “gvalhey” becomes “tinyurl.”

Hey! We got something, here!

We had collected a crowd by this point. Three of us were near our recorders and gathered the information from them. All the bar codes appeared to be the same, but the Device ID/Part No. were different. We had 1, 2, and 3 for the part numbers. On a whim, I tried putting the Device IDs at the end of the Tinyurl in order of the Part Numbers – (995/273/018). And whaddaya know? Dr. Ivan Krotzler in San Diego is a psychiatrist who has recently experienced a break-in and had patient data stolen from his office.

Perhaps patient data like tapes of therapy sessions?

Contacting Krotzler’s site netted a response from a Penny Farmer, who explained that Krotzler went missing last Friday and she’s very worried about him. And that’s where we stand now.

Believe it or not, the time elapsed between getting the photoshopped picture and finding the new website was 1.5 hours. And that was 11 days after getting the first recorder.

So that’s an example of how a puzzle in an ARG can work. We still don’t know who P.Martin is or why he sent us the mysterious tape recorders of mystery, but at least we know where he wanted us to go.

3 Responses to “Charlotte update: anatomy of an ARG puzzle solve”

  1. caro Says:

    I’m so glad that went somewhere 🙂 It was getting quite frustrating for a while 🙂 Clever clever puzzle!

  2. addlepated Says:

    Heh, tell me about it!

    The pacing has been pretty slow on this game, which is sort of driving the core IRC group nuts, and we’re sort of feeding on each others’ angst. It’s been right on the verge of moving from News and Rumors to Chaotic Fiction for SO LONG NOW. But what _has_ happened has been really intriguing, which makes us want more, more, more. Now, now, now!

  3. Fresh, Hot Wastes of Time » Blog Archive » A Charlotte Post Mortem Says:

    […] Normally these things come with some sort of overt puzzle. This, not so much. In fact, it took nearly two weeks to realize there was a puzzle there at […]